In the eight years that I have worked in the music industry, the peaks of my career have been offset by instances of racism. I have often been confused with other black people who work in the industry at events, meetings and panels – at a concert one night, this has happened three times.
For the first part of my career, I worked in the independent sector, which is not known for its diversity. My isolation as one of the few black people working in this field has often been explained by my white counterparts: I have been told that black people just don’t listen to alternative music, but that doesn’t explain why Whites are overrepresented. while working in black music. When I am asked for my perspectives, I am often asked to do the heavy lifting, as if structural racism is a problem that blacks should be addressing rather than the whites who perpetrate it. When I started out in the industry – younger, more insecure of my race, and trying to find my way in a sea of white faces, my attempts to assimilate were often overwhelmed by a sense of otherness.
A recent study by Black Lives in Music concluded that the majority of black professionals in the UK music industry experience racism, from racist language to cases of micro-aggression. The report distinguished the experiences of music creators and music executives and found that their experiences differed, with 63% of creators witnessing direct or indirect racism rising to 73% among professionals.
These findings will largely come as no surprise to black people like me working in music. I’m not trying to paint a picture of an industry that is always knowingly aggressive and violent. For the most part, I love my job, and while there are no overt incidents of racism every day, it is persistent and widely felt by black people working in music. It builds up, causing mental fatigue that minimizes our ability to work at full capacity. Much of this racism is implied or unspoken. While consciously most white people in the industry may not mean to be racist, instances of unconscious bias and other insidious forms of racism have lingering effects on us – not just on us. our ability to be successful in our work, but on our sanity. Indeed, 36% of music executives believed their mental health was declining due to the racism they faced. An industry committed to the fight against racism must be more aware of this.
The different experiences of music creators and executives highlighted in the report bear witness to a disturbing hierarchy. Blacks – and especially blacks – who are creators experience a relative form of privilege that blacks working in the shadow of music do not. Black designers are more often immune to the worst forms of racism that others experience: Since artists make everyone’s money, whites are more likely to be deferential.
Would it be wrong to ask these artists to use their relative power to uplift us all? The report still shows that the effect of racism on creators is still high, so ultimately it’s up to whites to embrace changes, but it’s interesting to note that many of the racial equality initiatives put forward are in place in the wake of Blackout Tuesday, the call for the music industry to stop for a day to protest the murder of George Floyd, were made by black women, the demographic who the report said , suffers the most from mental health problems and is the most underpaid. The implications of this are enormous. If we want a music industry as diverse as its talents, we must create an environment that is not hostile to its most underrated workers.
Last week I hosted a panel at the Wild Paths Festival called Anti-racism in the Music Industry – One Year On. An audience member noted that anti-racism movements existed in the music industry long before Blackout Tuesday – how then do we know that recent efforts will in fact produce lasting change? All of us on stage struggled to determine exactly why this time around seemed different to us. We all agreed that was in part because the murder of George Floyd, the Blackout Tuesday initiative, and the waves of Black Lives Matter protests made the pressing issues they raised inevitable during the pandemic’s isolation. . It’s unclear whether there will be lasting change, and findings like the Black Lives in Music report make it hard for blacks in the industry to be optimistic.
But I feel like at no other time in the history of the music industry have black people been able to speak directly to a wider audience about their experiences, especially the racism they have had to endure. by making the music they love. Reports like Black Lives in Music are one more step towards a better understanding of these lives and the work that needs to be done. Now it’s up to white people to help us implement the change the music industry desperately needs.